All too many music documentaries send you away feeling unsatisfied, but with its heartfelt backstory and generous helpings of music, Big Star: Nothing Can Hurt Me is a shining exception: the filmmakers’ urge to be true to their subject is palpable. It doesn’t hurt that Drew DeNicola and Olivia Mori frequently crank up the volume and allow the shimmering chords and moody sweep of Big Star to enfold the influential rock band’s mythic story of years in the wilderness and late rediscovery.
To a certain extent the trajectory of this Memphis band is familiar: born out of step in the early 1970s, Big Star experiences critical acclaim, botched distribution, and the divergence of its two key members and personae, Alex Chilton and Chris Bell. But the angst and personal travails with which the band’s story are intertwined—Bell died in a car crash in 1978—come through with unusual force. Chilton, who died in 2010, speaks from beyond the grave in radio clips; there are fresh interviews with drummer Jody Stephens, bassist Andy Hummel, and Bell’s brother and sister, who together bring an intimate perspective that’s especially moving.
The band’s sonically and psychologically enveloping music is, of course, an uncannily expressive soundtrack for their story, and it’s never employed injudiciously, as is often the case with rock docs. Superfans will doubtless quibble and/or swoon, and non-fans may find the final third meandering, but the heart and sound of Big Star comes across for all.